Sustaining a feminist spirit

At our Story-share evening on November 4, Sophie Verass shared her thoughts on feminism as sustenance, and sustaining her feminism. Below is a modified version of her talk.

When introducing myself, I generally list the following: I work in radio, I’m a writer and I’m a feminist. Although, realistically, I should lump that last word in with, I’m a daughter, a sister and a feminist. Because these are things that I will never be able to change about myself.

Being a feminist is such a striking aspect of my identity, where as a woman, I can’t help but be involved in my gender, because I experience feminist issues. I don’t just ambitiously try to break down the constructs of sexism on an everyday basis, but I simply understand that, me and people just like me, are inherently weighted against in society because of our genetic lottery.

Masters in gender politics have discussed many reasons why this discrimination is harmful. For example, it generates dehumanisation, whereby women become objectified, as well as the fact that sexism also causes issues around masculinity and detaches men from their emotions. So many intricate reasons.

However, the crux of this social fuck-up, is that it’s really fucking unfair. I hate to be painfully obvious, but people shouldn’t discriminate against others because of things that are out of one’s control. And this is why we hear so many of us reason with the sentence, ‘If I were a man…’.

If Julia Gillard were a man, the media probably wouldn’t have reported her as being ‘deliberately barren’ because she didn’t have children. If Taylor Swift were a man, she probably wouldn’t endure so many interview questions about her ‘promiscuous behaviour’, just because her songs are about love and experience. And if I were a man, I wouldn’t have been called ‘a fucking bitch’ when I asked three guys to leave a private function I was hosting on Saturday night. Women are treated differently and it pisses me off.

In terms of feminism as sustenance, it took me a while to think of how to communicate how feminism sustains me. And as I eat my chips with mayonnaise as I troll through Jezebel articles, I realise an ideal comparison would be to describe my relationship with feminism to the way in which food is a source of strength and nourishment.

I first became interested in feminist discourse and identified as a loud, angry, fuck-shaving-your-legs feminist, while studying in my second year at uni in London. I read the book ‘The Equality Illusion’ by Kat Banyard (for those who don’t know, equality, turns out… it’s an illusion) and there must be something about British women, as I hadn’t felt this passionate about something since the Spice Girls. Once I had read about feminist issues and continued to research them, I became hungry for more.

The fact that feminism is an academic discourse has always been my take on the movement, and the reported research is what I value in it. So, just like that sweet smell of processed white bread and chipotle sauce that Subway pumps onto the street, any book with a big F on the cover, will draw me in and fill me up.

I work as a communicator, which is pretty strange considering that my vocabulary has so much valley-girl speak (I’ve got more ‘likes’ in one sentence than on a Facebook post). But sharing insights and opinions and engaging with others is something I have always loved to do, so I couldn’t resist taking hold of the airwaves or finding work getting, what are essentially diary entries, which are disguised as online articles, published.

Although this kind of work takes up a lot of time, requires a lot of confidence and support, I wouldn’t say that I write or report because I’m ambitious. It’s actually the opposite. I often write about feminist politics because I’m lazy. In terms of sustenance, writing articles is my microwave meal.

Unfortunately, I don’t have the energy to challenge each anti-feminist at every opportunity, so instead, I opt for quick methods with minimal effort and use mass communication to simultaneously protest against these anti-feminists. And of course, hopefully sustain those already committed to the cause.

I imagine that every feminist feels as though they’ve had to educate people on the basics of feminism time and time again. Where, dishearteningly, all you’ve been doing for the past years is having the same conversation of: why feminism is also needed in the West; that it does affect men as well as women; and that calling yourself a ‘humanist’ obscures the initial purpose of feminism, because it suggests that both men and women start at the same benchmark, which is untrue.

Although I enjoy discussing feminism with people, it can sometimes be very frustrating when you feel as though your points are not being heard. And instead of pushing the boundaries, you fall into these repetitive conversations. For example, you might want to discuss quite a complex topic such as, the cost of childcare within a feminist framework. But instead, you find yourself pushed into a familiar exchange where you’re essentially back to testing the premise that inequality even exists. It’s like trying to suggest a new recipe to the culinary conservative. I suggest, ‘Hey, let’s do Moroccan Spiced Chicken’ and they reply, ‘Yeah, chicken nuggets sounds great.’ They’re not hearing you. All they’re hearing is ‘chicken’ and filling in the rest with their own taste. And to be honest, I’m fucking sick of pre-heating the oven to accommodate for their pre-prepared meal.

But instead of dwelling on my various feminist dietary requirements (like my inability to digest misogynist bullshit) I like to opt for something accessible, like writing to an audience, which helps me.

However, when I need something nutritious, it’s the conversations that I have with my friends and fellow feminists that truly sustains me.

The energy I get from intimate conversations, which tell the true stories behind women’s experience in a patriarchal system is really inspiring.

It’s the time that my friend told me that she was sitting at a bus stop in the Civic Centre and an older man offered her fifty dollars to give him a blow job. Or when another was encouraged by a colleague to not apply for a promotion, because if she landed it, everyone in the office would think that she was awarded because the boss had ‘the hots’ for her. Or when another heartbreakingly realised that she has been sexually assaulted by more men, than guys have told her that they love her.

These personal recollections are the evidence which give me the strength to continue to challenge the patriarchy; so that women’s bums in nightclubs aren’t to be used like Pokemon balls, in that, ‘you’ve gotta catch ‘em all’; so that people realise just how many women fall victim to domestic violence in Australia alone; and so that society will start taking women seriously.

Thanks to my wonderful and intelligent friends, I have been able to cook the most amazing feminist recipes with all kinds of ingredients from different discipline areas and different takes on feminism. But more importantly, it’s the cooperation that we’re striving to achieve the same thing that makes it all taste so good.

Yet, the alarming reality of being a feminist is that, although friends and likeminded others make it all worthwhile, the state of our unequal gender society, make these people rare to come by. So unfortunately you can’t rely solely on them to keep you sustained.

There may be those who love ‘chicken-nuggets’ and disrespect your views, but also people who don’t reinforce your opinions but still maintain a relationship with you based on other aspects. These kinds of relationships resonate a muesli bar, a processed starch which is full of sugar and ‘bad bits’, yet still has underlying traces of the good stuff.

I have family and friends who don’t identify as feminists, but instead of feeling drained, they remind me that there’s still work to do. It’s like having a bad meal, it leaves you with an upset stomach and a bad taste in your mouth. But it also gives you a hunger to make your next meal more nourishing.

Sophie Verass is a radio presenter on Canberra’s 2XX FM, published writer and hardcore feminist. With an interest in and an academic background in media theory and sociology, Sophie likes to complicate aspects of everyday life by wasting her time intricately analysing things like the ice bucket challenge, the McDonalds Monopoly marketing campaign and Mark Holden’s breakdown on Dancing with the Stars.

Image: Waferboard

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